Nicaragua: Three Years of Achievements
Basic data to be taken into account for analyzing the current reality of Nicaragua and the goals of the revolution.
Nicaraguan is now celebrating the third anniversary of the victory of July 19, 1979. This occasion gives us the opportunity to present some of the changes that have taken place and some reflections concerning them. We will present data which describe various aspects of the dynamic Nicaraguan reality.
Due to lack of space we cannot cover all of the sectors which we believe are important, such as the 9,915 Sandinista Defense Committees and the 400.000 members of these committees which exist throughout the country, or the enormous participation of women and youth in the revolutionary process. We will leave the discussion of the mass organizations, which gives an indication of the greater or lesser extent of popular participation in the process, for another time. Lack of space also necessitates a superficial treatment of the sectors included.
There is also a lack of systematic information which would allow comparisons with previous periods and which would allow presentation of the data without long explanations.
We will treat some sectors without commentary; in others, we will present achievements obtained, although there have also been setbacks. The objective is that this article be a source of documented reference information.
The areas included are the following: 1) geographic and demographic information on Nicaragua; 2) the economy, socio-labor information, and the agrarian reform; 3) the infrastructure sector; 4) the environment; 5) education; 6) health; 7) social welfare; 8) culture; and 9) human rights.
The sources of published information are cited. Original source material was also provided through interviews with Julio César Avilés, National Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights; Cecilia Lebranc, Ministry of Culture; and personnel in the Institute of Natural Resources.
I- GEOGRAPHIC AND DEMOGRAPHIC DATA
Area : 130,000 square kilometers, including lakes.
Capital : Managua.
Political divisions : Sixteen departments. (The Department of Zelaya on the
Atlantic Coast makes up 56.2% of total area)
Highest elevation : Cerro Mogotón, 2106 meters.
Principal volcanoes : San Cristóbal (1745 meters) and Concepción (1610
meters) are still active; Madera (1394 meters) and
Mombacho (1345 meters) are dormant.
Principal lakes : Lake Nicaragua, 8264 sq. Km.; Lake Managua, 1024 sq.
km. These are the two largest lakes in Central America.
Borders : In the north, with Honduras (887 km. long); in the
south, with Costa Rica (268 km. long.)
Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America in terms of land area, followed by Honduras (112,000 sq. km.) and Guatemala (109,000 sq. km.)
In Central America only Costa Rica, Panama and Belize have fewer inhabitants than Nicaragua. Nicaragua has the lowest population density of any country in the region except Belize, which has only 7 inhabitants per sq. km. El Salvador is the most densely populated country with 207 inhabitants per sq. km. 67.2% of the Nicaraguan population is below 25 years of age and 57.2% in under 19 years of age.
In this section, only some general indicators are given. For more information, see envío N° 12 (June, 1982), Mixed Economy and Labor data; envío N° 9 (February, 1982), Agriculture; and envío N° 5 (October, 1981), Economic Planning.
II- THE ECONOMY
AGRARIAN REFORMThe following is a synthesis of the principal aspects of agrarian reform and some concrete data of achievements in this area. (See also envíos 3 and 4).
A- Creation and Organization of the People’s Property Area (APP)
The confiscation and nationalization of the Somoza family’s lands was the first step in Agrarian Reform. This put close to 1.4 million manzanas of land in the hands of the State, 20% of Nicaragua’s total agricultural land. (Note: 1 manzana = 1.7 acres). Another fundamental achievement has been the consolidation of the APP, both in its organizational aspect of creating units of state production and agricultural enterprises, as well as in the aspect of promoting administrative and financial decentralization in order to insure efficient and productive operation of these lands.
B- Initiation of the Agrarian Structural Transformation Process.
The greatest achievement in this area has been to guarantee the campesino access both to lands in the APP area and to lands expropriated for lack of use, for underuse or for abandonment by the owners.
Between passage of the Agrarian Reform Law on July 19, 1981, and February of 1982, some 80,731 manzanas of land have been expropriated, of which 15,672 have become cooperatives and the rest has gone to the APP or to regional development.
Another achievement of the law has been the elimination of the most exploitative forms of land rental such as sharecropping. The only legal form of land rental that exists now is cash rental under rent ceilings. As can be seen in the economic section in relation to agricultural production data, a quite impressive achievement of the Nicaragua Agrarian Reform is to be able to bring about structural changes and, with the exception of cotton, to raise production to the pre-war levels of 1977-78.
C- Promotion of Cooperatives.
In 1975 the Nicaraguan National Bank had 133 cooperatives registered with 3144 associates, a figure which had dropped to 22 in 1978. At the end of 1981, due to the impetus given to cooperative organization as a policy of agrarian reform, 3,820 cooperatives were registered in the country, with a total of 62,359 members.
Advances in 1981. (Data obtained from the Report on the Junta of the National Reconstruction Government, May 5, 1982).
III- INFRASTRUCTURE SECTOR:
A- MICONS (Ministry of Construction). 72,000 sqare meters of building floor space was constructed at a cost of 175 million cordobas. The principal projects were: 5 markets, 5 hospitals, 2 health center and 2 education centers.
170 kilometers of highway were also constructed at a cost of 307 million cordobas. The roads were located as follows: 47.9 km in the north; 62.9 km in the Pacific and 59.3 km in the Atlantic Coast area.
The road joining the Atlantic and Pacific coasts was also completed so that transportation by land between the two areas is now possible for the first time. Road repairs were carried out on 10,110 km, amounting to 40.4% of the total road system.
B- MITRANS (Ministry of Transportation). The bus service, ENABUS, provided service to 55.4 million passengers, 9% more than in 1980. In the railway system, passenger service increased by 21% and freight transport increased by 18%. The Nicaraguan Coastal Transport Enterprise acquired another boat for the Atlantic Coast and there was a 10% increase in the services offered in 1981 over 1980. The Nicaraguan airline company, AERONICA, was formed, and it purchased one Boeing 727-100 (119 passenger capacity), one Boeing 720 (149 passenger capacity) and 2 Avioca C-212 planes (28 passenger capacity) for the Atlantic Coast.
C- MINVAH (Ministry of Housing). In 1981-82, construction was begun on 3698 houses. 892 families received housing from MINVAH, benefiting 12,000 persons, and 2642 lots were given to 15,811 beneficiaries.
D- INE (Nicaraguan Energy Institute). A geothermal energy plant of 35 megawatts is under construction at the Momotombo Volcano. In June of 1982, the transmission lines to connect Nicaragua’s electrical system with Costa Rica’s were finished. Also, 484 km of electric lines were installed, benefiting 35 communities.
E- INAA (Nicaraguan Institute of Water Supply and Sewers). 134 km of pipes were laid, and 43,541 persons were benefited with 6247 new installations.
F- TELCOR (General Administration of Communications and Mail Service). 1000 km of telephone wires were installed, servicing 15,900 new users.
IV- THE ENVIRONMENT
It would be impossible here to present all of the work carried out in this category. Furthermore, the work of the Nicaraguan Institute of Natural Resources (IRENA) involves a series of projects which do not have immediate results that can be measured. The work of IRENA is directed at three different areas:
Forest Service. A project of studying the 60 most important species of trees is being carried out, and another study to determine the quality of the forest resources is also being prepared. The most important projects are those of reforestation, particularly the planting of rows of tress to act as a windbreak in the northwest part of the country (Chinandega). 1500 km of these windbreaks have already been planted, although many of them were destroyed by two recent floods. Two other large reforestation projects are located in Nueva Segovia and Northern Zelaya, two areas where there has been uncontrolled timber exploitation in the past. Parallel to these tasks a forest service is being started, one that is maintained by resident volunteers, to patrol the forests, particularly watching for forest fires.
National Park and Wildlife Service. This service consists of the administration and management of the two National Parks (Masaya Volcano and Saslaya Hill in Zelaya) and in the investigation and planning for new parks. It has also involved training new park guards, constructing paths for visitors to the Masaya Volcano as well as a visitors’ center, where more than 80,000 visitors come each year. This service also administers the national zoo. In terms of wildlife, research is underway regarding the protection of endangered species of animals and plants.
Environmental Quality and Improvement Service. This service carries out the following functions:
a) Control of the exploitation of timber, animals and plants.
b) Promotion of environmental education programs in the university and with campesino groups in the departments of Jinotega and Matagalpa. Promotion of other projects with the Ministry of education to develop a consciousness of the importance of environmental conservation.
c) Implementation of research on environmental quality, in particular regarding saving Lake Managua, which is almost completely contaminated.
d) Control of the river basins and research on the hydrographic structures and the erosion zones of the country and recommendation of reforestation and other projects.
Social needs are so great that it is illogical to think that the Government, which has such limited resources, could have met them immediately. For that reason the general policy of the Government has been that the people themselves, through organization, improve their situation. Within the social sector the priorities are education, as a fundamental tool for the betterment of the individual and the country, and health, a basic requisite for participation in the productive process and for raising the standard of living of everyone. Within this area, preventive medicine and health education have an important dimension.
THE SOCIAL SECTOR: Brief Introduction
Many of the social tasks are developed with the decisive participation of the popular organizations. Two examples within this framework of unpaid volunteer work are: the popular teachers in adult education and the health “brigadistas” in the area of health promotion. We will look at some aspects of Education, Health, and Social Welfare.
Nicaragua will always remember 1980 as the “Literacy Crusade Year”, which succeeded due to the determination of the government to end illiteracy. The efforts carried out in the Crusade are continuing, with special attention being given to adult education through the Vice-Ministry of Adult Education (VIMEDA). The programs, the pedagogical and methodological structure, and the active popular participation have made concrete the principle that “it is people who educate people”, and it is the adult him/herself who becomes a director of his/her own education.
An important aspect which cannot be measured is the slow transformation of the educational system in the country, which begins with a substantial change in philosophical-pedagogical concepts: uncritical and unquestioning education becomes critical and conscientizing and enables the student to really understand his/her country, avoiding textbook abstractions and promoting the work-school relationship.
The following table shows, at a quantitative level, the advances made toward true democratization at the educational level, concretizing the fundamental principle of the “Right to an Education”.
Important causes of this expansion have been free education; the construction of new schools, especially in rural areas; and the creation of the Adult Education Program after the Literacy Crusade.
A. Basic Information
B. Health Policies and Achievements of the Revolution.
After the revolutionary triumph, a single health system was set up under the direction of the Ministry of Health. With few exceptions, hospitals and health centers are run by the State. Medical attention is free, and that has resulted in a significant increase in the number of medical consultations, which often overloads the existing health system infrastructure. In the only infant/maternity hospital (Vélez Paiz in Managua) the number of consultations rose from 11,398 in January 1979 to 22,412 in January 1980.
An example of the type of health care which is being implemented are the Oral Rehydration Centers set up in various areas to counteract diarrhea, one of the leading causes of infant mortality in Nicaragua. The outpatient treatment in these centers increased 82.3% in 1981 over 1980 and the doses of oral rehydration fluids administered increased 35%.
In addition, both the purchase and the distribution of medicines (in large part given at no charge) are under the control of the Health Ministry.
Budget of the Health Ministry (some data)
- 1980 – 344.6% higher than in 1978
- 1981 – 1014 billion cordobas (11.6% of government budget)
- 1982 – 1183 billion cordobas (10.9% of government budget)
Hospitals under construction and health centers (advances in 1981): Under construction are: the Children’s Hospital in Managua, plus hospitals in Masaya, Rivas, Matagalpa and Bluefields, at a total cost of 466 million cordobas and with a future capacity of 347 beds. In 1981, 44 health centers were constructed and 3 were remodeled. There are now 373 health centers in Nicaragua.
-- 1980 – 1.2 million vaccinations against polio, measles,
tetanus (148% above that carried out in 1978)
-- 1982 – 1.16 million doses of polio vaccine; 410,000 DPT
vaccinations; 175,000 polio vaccinations.
-- Anti-dengue campaign effectively prevented an outbreak of
dengue in the country.
-- November 1981 – Anti-malaria campaign cut the incidence of
malaria by 505 in the country.
(Sources: World Development Report of the World Bank, annual report of the Health Ministry, annual report of the Junta of the National Reconstruction Government)
An estimated 78,000 health “brigadistas” participated on a voluntary basis in the various health campaigns. The majority were women (80%) who were organized by the Sandinista Youth Group, AMNLAE (women’s organization) and the CDS’s (block committees).
Aspects related to health education:
- 12 departmental schools for nurse’s aides were consolidates
- nursing schools were opened in Trinidad (Esteli) and Puerto
- 611 health professionals carried out their obligatory
- 53 specialists graduated from medical school
- the Ministry of Health has 1302 students studying on
scholarship both in the country and outside the country
In order to increase the efficiency of services in the area of social welfare, early in 1982 the Institute of Social Security and the Ministry of Social Welfare merged into the Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security and Welfare (INSSBI).
VII- SOCIAL WELFARE
Following are some points taken from the government report made on May 4, 1982. Through the work of INSSBI, the major achievements have been in the establishment of the following programs:
- Children’s nutrition centers.
- Family protection and orientation.
- Occupational and psycho-social rehabilitation centers.
- Protection of the elderly.
- Vacation system for workers.
Other programs which were carried out by the Old Social Welfare Ministry include:
- Centers for early childhood development and daycare centers.
- Services for children in rural areas.
- Rehabilitation centers for drug addicts and prostitutes.
- Programs for the disabled.
Many of these programs involve the participation of the mass organizations, such as AMNLAE (women’s organization), the CDS’s and the Rural Workers’ Organization (ATC), or of other specialized organizations such as the Disabled Persons’ Organization.
An example of the progress made in the area of social security is the increase in pensions to workers, which are now considered a fundamental right of workers. Under Somoza, some of the pensions given amounted to only 18 córdobas per month ($1.80). In December of 1979 the pensions were substantially increased for the elderly, the disabled, widows and orphans.
To promote the development of a grass-roots artistic and cultural movement, twenty-four Cultural Centers have been formed by the Ministry of Culture. These centers function both in Managua and in the interior of the country, and they include 41 instructors and 46 cultural promoters. So far 138 art workshops and 53 poetry workshops have been conducted, with 583 participants.
Major Cultural Events
- First Corn Festival “Xilonem”, held in Masaya with 900 participants and more than 100,000 visitors.
- First Festival of Nicaraguan Handicrafts “La Piñata”, which included 20 handicraft cooperatives and 174 individuals.
- Music and Dance Festival of a Liberated People, which included 200 performers from the entire country.
- Festival of Young Artists and the Festival of Campesino Music.
- National Theater Workshop involving groups from all over the country.
Poetry: In 1981, 33 poetry workshops were held; in addition, every Tuesday poetry readings are held in Managua to afford new poets an opportunity to present their work.
Film: The Nicaraguan Film Institute (INCINE) produced 22 short news films, 6 documentaries and one full-length film. INCINE has also taken its mobile film unit to all parts of the country to present free films. INCINE estimates that they have given more than 9000 showings with 2,247,251 people attending.
Libraries: The number of libraries in the country has increased from 8 before the triumph to 34 today and a mobile library unit is also operating, which takes books around to people in their communities.
Artistic Schools: In 1981 there were 199 students in the Schools of Dance, Music and Art. The theater school was also officially inaugurated last year, with 15 students.
Sports: In Managua, 190 Voluntary Sports Committees were formed which organized 215 competitions in the nine main sports activities. In 1981, the Physical Education School “Blas Reales Espinoza” was formed, which trained 381 instructors.
Although other parts of this article have touched upon some data related to progress made in the basic economic and social rights of Nicaraguan citizens, in this section we refer strictly to political and civil rights. The order of the following points does not necessarily reflect their order of importance. We are only presenting areas where we believe significant progress has been made, recognizing that there have also been areas where progress has not been adequate.
IX- HUMAN RIGHTS
Respect for human life: One of the first actions taken by the government after the triumph was to abolish the death penalty in Nicaragua. The maximum prison sentence is 30 years, even for those ex-National Guardsmen who committed the most heinous crimes against the people.
Elimination of torture: According to the reports of various international human rights organizations which have visited Nicaragua, the practice of torture no longer exists here.
Disappearances: The most recent report on human rights in Nicaragua issued by America’s Watch in May of 1982 states that there is no evidence that the Nicaraguan government is using the practice of disappearances as a form of repression against the people, a practice which is very common in other countries in the region.
Creation of the National Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights: The Commission was created by the government in July, 1980. Nicaragua is the only country in Latin America to have responded in a positive way to the suggestion of the United Nations to create a national human rights commission. The Commission’s primary responsibility is to investigate violations of human rights and to make recommendations to the government. The very existence of the Commission is one of the best indicators of the government’s commitment to respect human rights.
Prison system: Although problems still exist in the prison system due primarily to the economic limitations of the government, which prevent the implementation of greater improvements, still we can point to significant achievements. One of these is the program of work rehabilitation, which has favorably impressed many of the international commissions that have visited the prisons, and another is the experimental open prison which is being tried out on a farm near Managua. This innovative system involves a number of model prisoners who work on the farm without any guards and under the authority of one of the same prisoners.
Review of the sentences given the ex-National Guardsmen: On October 24, 1981, the Clemency Law was passed which authorizes the National Human Rights Commission to review the sentences passed on these prisoners and make recommendations to government for clemency. This law responded to some of the criticism of human rights organizations, and its passage demonstrates Nicaragua’s sensitivity to this issue.
U.N. Seminar on Racial Discrimination: In December, 1981, Managua was the site of this event sponsored by the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations. Naming Nicaragua as the site of the conference was considered a recognition of Nicaragua’s record and concern in the area of human rights.
(Translated from original in Spanish)